When Joe Biden was in elementary school, the nuns put him on safety patrol, giving him a shiny blue badge. One day on the bus, his sister Valerie acted up, and Biden knew his duty was to report her.

Instead, with his father’s gentle encouragement, he turned in his badge and quit the patrol. Nothing was more important than family, he decided — even if members of that family stretched the rules a little.

Since he was nearly 3, when his little sister was born, Joe and Val have shared a personal partnership. Valerie Biden Owens has not only been deeply entwined in her brother’s life but has been fundamental in building his political career.

When he had a debilitating stutter, she helped him overcome it. When he ran for high school class president, she directed the effort. And she has run Biden’s campaigns ever since — for county councilman, U.S. senator and his first two bids for president.

The 2020 campaign is the first Biden operation not run by his sister, but Owens, 74, remains an influential presence, according to friends and advisers. She helped craft the themes of the Democratic convention, particularly connecting Americans’ struggles with her brother’s story of overcoming tragedy. She reviews his speeches, participates in every debate preparation and scrutinizes major ads before they are released.

Owens was also a sounding board during Biden’s high-stakes search for a running mate. Protective of her big brother, she had a harder time overcoming her anger at Sen. Kamala D. Harris’s attack on Biden in a Democratic debate. But days after Harris’s selection, Harris, Biden and Owens had lunch together.

Owens has the same mannerisms and tells the same stories as Biden — even if he’s sitting right next to her — but she has an added bit of irreverence. “To me, she’s almost the yin and yang in one person,” said Margaret Aitken, who has worked on Biden’s campaigns and in his Senate office. “I describe her as an iron fist in cashmere glove.”

As Biden’s circle rapidly expands, Owens serves as a conduit, often meeting with new staffers over spaghetti or other Italian dishes.

Her role is often to be the shaper of policy rather than the creator. She is particularly concerned with making sure a message translates to voters, weighing in if she feels advisers are making things too complicated.

Owens was instrumental in one of the biggest changes Biden made last year, when he dropped his support for the Hyde Amendment, for the first time urging repeal of the federal law that sharply restricts the use of taxpayer money for abortion.

Biden initially stuck to the position he had held for decades, according to a person familiar with the conversations who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. But Owens and several other high-ranking female staffers argued abortion rights faced unprecedented threat, especially for low-income women and women of color who had gained access to health care through the Affordable Care Act. Biden ultimately agreed.

Owens’s career has been tied to Biden’s political rise for 50 years: She has been paid by his campaigns, become a successful consultant in their home state, given speeches on his races and held top positions with a foundation and an institute connected with him.

Ron Klain, a top Biden adviser who helps run his debate practices, considers Owens’s role to be unique in the Biden operation. “What she brings to it is an ear for what she thinks is effective,” Klain said. “She’s got a great gut and instinct with what connects with people. She’s sharp as a whip, and tough — as you expect from the only girl who grew up in a family of all brothers.”

“And,” he added, “she’s not afraid to tell her brother that he’s wrong.”

Biden is equally lavish in his descriptions. “Some people say she can finish my sentences. The truth is — and most of you would be too polite to say it — she has written the best of my sentences,” Joe Biden said in a 2010 speech. “She has not only believed in me, she has helped me believe in myself.”

Owens was 27 when she ran her brother’s first Senate race in 1972, a time when women were not prominent in politics. Toward the end of that campaign, the Evening Journal in Wilmington, Del., ran a column profiling the former University of Delaware homecoming queen — and dean’s list honoree — in cringeworthy terms.

“She told me about her tomboyish girlhood, and it was then that I whipped up a leer and said, ‘It must have been fun playing touch football with you, especially for the other team,’ ” the columnist wrote. “She has to be the best looking campaign manager in the country.” He described her as “chic and slender, with her brother’s quasi-sharp features.”

Only much later in the column did the writer note Owens oversaw a staff of 25 and a volunteer corps of 1,700. She set up coffees and wrote notes to potential supporters. The campaign could not afford a statewide mailing, so Owens invented what staffers called the Biden Post Office, where volunteers hand-delivered a weekly campaign newspaper.

“Joe and I tend to think along the same lines,” she said at the time. “Nine out of 10 times, we have the same intuitive reaction to things.” Because he trusted her, Biden himself was rarely at headquarters, spending his days instead meeting voters.

“At the end of the day, around 9 or 10 at night, he and Valerie would sit down and go over what happened during the day, agree what was going to happen the next day,” said Ted Kaufman, who worked for Biden’s 1972 campaign and has been close to him ever since. “He won because he shook more hands, [and] the reason he could do it was because Valerie ran the campaign.”

Years later, when Aitken, a young woman and political novice, dropped by to volunteer for Biden’s 1996 reelection campaign, she found herself listening as Owens prepared a roomful of volunteers to distribute literature.

“I just remember watching her in awe, just the command she had of the room,” said Aitken, who went to high school with Biden’s son Beau. “She’s this tiny woman, probably 100 pounds soaking wet and holding dumbbells, but she had this magnetism about her, and charisma. I literally walked out of there thinking this piece of literature is going to be the difference.”

Owens became a mentor, and when Aitken married, Owens threw the bridal shower. Like many former Biden staffers, she receives a birthday card from Owens in the mail each year.

“She’s like one of those warm fireplaces that people just gravitate toward,” Aitken said. “She’s not loud, she’s not obnoxious. She’s a confident person, and passionate.”

Owens, who declined a request for an interview, was with Biden in Washington in December 1972 when they got a call saying Biden’s wife and three children had been in a car accident.

His wife and infant daughter were killed, and Biden, who had been elected to the Senate but had not yet taken office, considered resigning to care for his two surviving boys. Several senators urged him to try balancing home and Senate for six months, and Biden did, commuting from Delaware.

That allowed his career to continue. “What made it work was Valerie,” said Kaufman, who often took the train home with Biden or, for a time, a car large enough to fit phone equipment so he was never out of reach. “She moved in with the boys. He said, ‘Okay, I’ve got it.’ He saw how it could work.”

And it drew the siblings closer. Owens did the cooking, shopping, laundry, driving — the aunt becoming the mother.

“Everybody can point to a family tragedy,” Beau Biden, who died of brain cancer in 2015, told The News Journal in 2010. “One of two things happens. They either get closer together or they get torn apart. We were a pretty close family to begin with, and we got even closer. My aunt was a big part of that.”

At the time, her own marriage was fraying, but she kept this painful experience from her brother. “I made a big mistake. But your life was shattered,” she told him later, according to an account in Biden’s book, “Promises to Keep.” “You were bleeding from every pore, and I was trying to shore you up, to be a happy face for you and the boys.”

Following her divorce, she married Jack Owens, who had been Biden’s best friend at law school in Syracuse. They have three children.

Over the years, Biden’s growing political clout elevated his sister, who became a go-to adviser for other candidates in the small state.

“She has essentially mentored a whole generation or two of aspiring political leaders in our state,” said former Delaware governor Jack Markell (D). “She’s a very, very clear communicator. She says it exactly like it is. You don’t have to spend a lot of time guessing.”

Markell sought her input in 2009, when he took office amid a budget crisis.” She said, “ ‘You have to explain yourself. You’ve got to give people a sense of why you’re making the decisions you’re making,’ ” he recalled. “ ‘They may not like it. You may pay a price in the near-term’ — which I did — ‘but over time people will know you’re straight with them.’ ”

Like her brother, Owens is also known for calling people, sometimes out of the blue, when they’re facing a health or family crisis. She has recognized over the years she has benefited from his connections and success.

“I had a better seat at the table because my brother was at the head,” she told a group of students at the University of Delaware in 2017.

A 2008 report from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonprofit watchdog, found Biden was among the top senators paying family members, with Owens and her daughter getting nearly $55,000 from his 2002 Senate campaign.

In the last months of the Obama administration, she was appointed as an alternate representative to the United Nations.

For nearly two decades, Owens served as executive vice president of Joe Slade White & Co., a political consulting and media firm. She is also a volunteer trainer for Women’s Campaign International, helping teach women in emerging democracies how to organize and develop political skills.

Owens has spoken at conferences around the world, including in Liberia, Venezuela, Romania and Taiwan. She has given commencement addresses and is listed by several speakers’ bureaus.

Her website cites a number of potential keynote topics, including an hour-long session on her brother’s 1972 Senate race.

In recent years, Owens has served as vice chair of the Biden Institute at the University of Delaware and held a similar title with the Biden Foundation, which aims to advance causes embraced by Joe and Jill Biden. The foundation suspended its operations when Biden announced his presidential campaign, which has become a primary focus for her.

As Biden deliberated for months over whether to run, Owens was in every meeting of the inner circle, either by phone or personally in the basement of the home he was renting in McLean, Va.

She was a forceful voice urging him to jump in the race — and, later, encouraging him when his campaign hit a dismal stretch after losses in Iowa and New Hampshire.

As the defender of what some advisers called “the Biden brand,” Owens weighed in early in the campaign on logos and merchandise or called for more lawn signs.

If the campaign held a meeting and she was absent, Biden would ask, “Where’s Val?”

She has also emerged as a popular surrogate and, according to advisers, an effective validator for her brother. During the primary, she took part in 91 in-person events in 10 states, and since Biden become the presumptive nominee, she has done 23 virtual events.

“Val’s been there — beginning, middle and end; morning, noon and night,” said Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.), who has known the Bidens for decades.

“She’s got a very human touch. She respects and admires him, and she helps him be his best self,” he added. “But she can also look him in the eye and say, ‘Don’t do this.’ She can tell him the stuff that nobody wants to hear. Because you can’t fire your sister.”

Alice Crites contributed to this report.